One of my greatest talents is avoiding self-reflection. I’m content with believing that I’m hip and easy going. Unfortunately, I have kids who call me on my crap. Unlike fair-weather friends who can be kicked to the curb when they criticize me, I take to heart the observations of my children.
For example, I like tattoos. I really do. I own a couple myself and admire the courage of those who have murals painted on their arms, chests or backs.
I recently discovered that as much of a fan I am of tattoos, I like them on others more than on my own children.
Our son Harrison has no tattoos. Our daughter Laine got her first one in December of her eighteenth year, when she was home for Christmas break from college. As a veteran of one tattoo at that point, I was excited for her.
When she was at the tattoo parlor, I wandered in to take a look. I nearly fainted. The artist was painting a very large antique key across her left shoulder blade. “It sure is big,” I said. (Okay, I probably said it more like, “IT SURE IS BIG!!!”)
Later Laine said she didn’t know it was going to be so large and asked if I was okay with it. I apologized for my initial reaction and told her she could have whatever she wants painted on her body.
A few years after that, she and a couple of her girlfriends decided to get red button tattoos behind their right earlobes. I thought this sounded sweet and fun. I envisioned a petite shirt button. She came home with a coat button. “It sure is big,” I said. (Okay, I probably said it more like, “IT SURE IS BIG!!!”) Noting her disappointment, I added, “But I like it.” She was twenty-three, it was her body, and she could tattoo whatever she wanted on it.
Flash forward a few years to Harrison’s wedding. Months before the event, Laine—who is now twenty-six—chose a strapless bridesmaid gown. I encouraged her to wear a shrug to cover her back, thinking some people in the audience might be offended by the large key on her back. (Yes, I did and yes, I am now ashamed to admit it.)
A couple of hours before the bridesmaids were scheduled for photos, Laine asked if she could speak with me privately. I panicked. What could she possibly have to speak to me privately about? I feared I would be reprimanded for some inappropriate behavior. I had no idea what I might have done.
She spoke softly as she took me on a retrospective of her three tattoos and my reactions to each. She said she would not wear a shrug to the wedding ceremony because she is who she is—a woman with a large, beautiful tattoo on her back.
I was ashamed that I had asked her to compromise who she is in order not to offend others. I apologized. (Mostly, I was relieved that she didn’t point out times when I might have acted like a fool during the wedding weekend.)
Then she said, “A few months ago I got another tattoo. It’s on my arm. And it’s big.”
I braced myself, took a deep breath and said, “That’s fine honey. It’s your body and you can do what you want.”
She pulled up the sleeve of her robe to reveal a quotation in beautiful calligraphy on her left tricep. I won’t lie—IT IS BIG and caused me a moment of shock. I hugged her and apologized for making her think I disapproved of her previous tattoos. She is a successful, kind, productive citizen of this world. She can tattoo whatever she wants onto her body.
In the days that followed, the need to reflect on what happened between my daughter and me poked me in the ribs. Why could I accept and admire body art on others, yet have such a difficult time accepting it on her?
When I gave birth to her, I created a perfect masterpiece with delicate, soft skin that I lovingly bathed and caressed, protected with sunscreen, and bandaged when wounded. I now realize the sense of ownership I still harbor toward that skin. Deep in my heart, I can’t help being offended that she so casually lets people scribble on it.
On others, I consider tattoos art; on her, it’s graffiti.